Category Archives: Useless

Instant chai

I am blessed to live in an area with a diverse population and an equally diverse selection of ethnic grocery stores.

Last night, I checked out Madras Grocery, where I was greeted with a vast array (to me at least) of Indian food products (and probably California produce). I ended up buying some Punjabi Mix (a snack mix made by Surati… I was venturing outside my comfort zone of haldirams), some ready-to-eat paneer dishes, and some instant chai.

Here’s a picture of the box of chai.

First experience with instant chai

First experience with instant chai

At $4 per box GeeBees Chai Gold Masala Sweetened pre-mix costs more than your basic tea sachets, but it’s actually pretty good. The ingredients list is refreshingly simple, from the perspective of an American resident used to synthetic food additives: milk powder, sugar, tea extract, ginger, black pepper, cardamom, and clove. And I see that it sells for $28/3 boxes online, shipping included.

I’m drinking it right now as I write code in my office. 🙂

If anyone has any recommendations on other chai brands I should try (there were a few represented at the store) or other Indian mass-market “delicacies” I should try (the Surati Punjabi mix is pretty good, and lives up to its “extra hot” subtext), do let me know! 🙂

The Dedicated Link Cable

There’s a market for everything, isn’t there? Especially for Dedicated Link Cables. I never knew I needed one. But of course! When I crimp those RJ45s onto CAT5, I am just making an ethernet cable, but the Denon AKDL1 Dedicated Link Cable is capable of time-travel. It even extends the digital signal beyond 1’s and 0’s to *2*! Of course, this only works if you connect it in the right direction, otherwise you will add -1 instead, and we all know negative is bad.

Maybe I’ll save up for the used one on sale for $2,499.98. I don’t have the proper equipment to perform “burn-in,” so it might be worth paying the extra $1,999.98.

Check out the reviews. Who knew that reviews could be so much fun to read. ;-D One reviewer talks about how the cable solved global warming, but I don’t think that’s possible unless he had it professionally installed in triplets.

Just saw a shooting star!

I think I just saw a shooting star!  I went outside to check out the Perseid meteor shower, which was supposed to peak last night, and saw a very bright point trace itself across the sky.  It left a trail about 15-20 degrees long in my field of view, which stayed lit for about a quarter second. The last time I thought I saw one, it was very faint, but this time, it was very bright.

I suppose it could’ve been a satellite in low earth orbit which happened to light itself for that short arc across my vision, or fragment from some fireworks, but the former seems unlikely, and the latter should’ve been accompanied by some sound and other light trails.

Wow.  I’ve never seen one so bright and so obvious.  It definitely helped to fire up Stellarium, and locate the Perseus constellation.  But what helped more was to get the RA and DEC (right ascension and declination) for the shower (RA 03h 04m Dec +58°), and to see the real location in the sky in relation to the other constellations (turn on azimuthal grid and equatorial grid).  Stellarium tells you where to look in the sky, depending on where you are and what time it is.  You can even advance/backtrack in time so you know when it’s above the horizon and when it’s close/far from the moon.

Infinite Summer

Infinite Summer is now underway, and I’m pleased to see that a book I’m reading has spawned its own internet book club for the duration of this summer.

Infinite Jest is a book about a many things.  It’s an epic saga.  It’s really, really long.  It’s by the late David Foster Wallace whose Consider the Lobster essay (commissioned by Gourmet magazine, hailed by PETA in their fight against lobster consumption) I found enlightening, well-written, and plain fun.  His writing is clever and engaging, and his mixing of SAT words with colloquialisms should feel gratifying to all who ever had vocabulary flash cards.
I’m told that Infinite Jest has been read by everyone in UCI‘s English department.

In my case, I’ve not finished the book, though I’m around page 850 or so.  That’s about September in the Infinite Summer syllabus, which allows about 75 pages per week, not including footnotes.  You should know that some of the footnotes are short-story length.  Some footnotes have their own footnotes.

Many of the book’s ideas are literally ridiculous. Yet it treats a number of serious themes on life and humanity, so I usually end up feeling more human after reading its pages.

So, in summary, I think the book is great, and the whole Infinite Summer idea is great too (you will be part of a big effort with a bunch of other people, happening right now).   If you’re interested, check out his lobster essay first, because that’s article-length, rather than Bible-length.

Typing or fretting

It just occurred to me that if you play the guitar and touch-type, you have slightly conflicting demands of your fingertips.  For guitar, you want your left (fretting) hand fingertips to have thickly calloused skin so that you can play longer without worrying about bruising from the strings.  If you play classical or fingerstyle, you probably want to have longer fingernails on your right (plucking) hand so you can get a sharper, clearer tone.

Yet for touch typing, it helps me to feel the keyboard, so I can find the positioning bumps on the home row and feel when I’m hitting keys at their edges so I can reposition.  Good tactile feedback and sense helps me adjust to differently-sized keyboards faster too.  Calloused fingertips don’t feel the keyboard well, and fingernails might even prevent your fingertips from touching keys.

hmpf. 🙂

My race results: Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose Half Marathon

7773 • Daniel • Irvine CA • M-30 • Half Marathon •
Gun: 7:59:36 AM 5k 10K 10Mile Finish
Chip: 8:02:07 AM 28:06 59:22 1:37:55 2:19:09
Race Pace: 9:03 9:34 9:48 10:37

Perhaps I’ll tell more later.

Webs, the kind made by spiders

I’ve just spent the last hour (most of it, anyway), watching a spider weave a web. If you haven’t watched a spider spin a web, I highly recommend it whenever you have the opportunity.

I was walking home this quiet evening, when I happened upon a rather large spider. By ‘large’, I mean a spider with the abdomen about the size of a piece of Skittles or an M&M. Its legs could probably span the width of two quarters side-by-side. Anyway, I was walking by, and it had just put down a few basic support threads spanning a bush and a tree about two feet away. This was the first time, as far as I could remember, that I had seen a spider actually weaving a web. I thought to myself, “Self, you’ve never seen a web woven before, and this big spider is about to weave one right before your eyes. Why don’t you stop and have a look– you’ve got nothing particularly urgent to do tonight.” So I did.

Watching a spider weave a web is one of the more fascinating things you’ll ever see. As you watch this feat of biology, physics, and, well, nature, you will no doubt observe things that are practically hidden from you when you see the finished product. Here’s what I noticed.

Scaffolding: Though I didn’t see the very beginning of the web, I came early enough to see the spider attach most of its main support threads between the tree trunk, its branch, and the nearby shrub. What was interesting was that a lot of structure is put in place before the center of the web was chosen. This support framing consisted solely of long segments, sometimes bolstered by double or triple threading. When it was done, it began the next stage by marking the center.

Centering: The spider marked the center by emitting a few large globs of web-material. I don’t know if it came out of its spinnerets or if it puked them out, but it sure looked like it puked. One instant, it was attaching another support line somewhere in the web, and the next instant, there was a few army-ant-sized globs hanging on the web. I would later discover that this was the new center of the web. Now that the center was chosen, it could now add radial segments.

Radials: The spider deposited its first radials rather sparsely, apparently to lay out some structural support. Only after there was roughly even support all around did it begin filling in. After the first set of radials, it would fill in the gaps with about 12 degree spacing– I counted about 30 radial threads from the center at the end. Once these radials were done, it never laid down any more of them. It proceeded to the spiraling.

First spiral thread set: The spider proceeded to add spiral segments around its center, easily referenced by the army-ant-sized globs. Ring spacing began around 2mm, and would grow gradually, until they were about 3cm apart, about 10 inches or so from the center. Once they got too far apart, the spider stopped, and began filling in the outside.
Support arcs: I suppose there’s a technical term for what it built next, but it laid out arcs at the top and bottom of the outer edge of the web, several inches from the boundaries of the spiral it had just made. The top and bottom each got three or four arcs, spaced about 1cm apart, spanning several radials.

Outside spiral fill: After these supports were put in, the spider began filling in the web in a spiral fashion, beginning with the outside arcs. Spacing was about 7-10mm between rings. This is the final stage (before I began typing this) of the web construction.

Resting: Every now and then, the spider seemed to pause for a several seconds, apparently to rest.

Attaching threads: The spider paused for about half a second to make attachments after each segment. The long, framing threads took a lot longer to attach– perhaps three or four seconds. I now understand why spiders have eight legs. When spinning threads, the spider uses two rear legs from one side to guide and push the thread to the attachment point. Why two? It hands thread from one to the other. And with two legs on a side not supporting weight or providing stability, it assuredly needs another two on that side. It’s attaching a really thin thread coming out of its butt and attaching it to a precise point on another really thin thread, so a lot of stability is required. I never once saw it slip or stumble.
Thread spinning observations: Usually the spider added threads by releasing silk while crawling along an existing thread. It was interesting to watch when it didn’t. In those cases, it would let itself drop slowly, releasing its silk, until it landed on the horizontal segment it somehow knew was there.
Gravity: After finishing, the web’s spiral rings looked really quite evenly spaced. The slightly wider spacing at the top hints at a different story during construction. I was surprised to find that after beginning what I called ‘support arcs’, the additional weight ruined the nice inner spiral, which looked increasingly ruined as more spirals were filled in from the outside-in. Not to worry– the spider re-tightened the innermost spiral rings afterwards.

Final dimensions: The spiral web portion was roughly three feet in diameter. Yes, that means that if you walk into it, it will wrap around your head completely with room to spare. This spider should get some mighty fine eatin’ tonight.

Anyway… you should really have a look if you’ve never seen a spider spin a web right in front of you. A book, DVD, wikipedia entry, or youtube video will just not cut it. It’s a different experience when you can walk around it, put your face as close as you dare, squint to see its impossibly thin threads in the light, and watch the web undulate as the occasional breeze (or breath) blows by (you’ll notice that its rigidity increases with support threads and decreases with sticky threads that catch the wind).

Epilogue: Actually, the spider’s completely finished now.  It’s resting in the very center of the spiral, and the globs of stuff that marked the center are now completely gone.  Overall ring spacing is about 1cm near the top, and 3-4mm at the center and sides, and maybe 3mm at the bottom. Verily, I marvel.

Useless Politics Test

I have a sneaking suspicion that I’ve taken this online quiz already, but here it is anyway. It’s somewhat troubling that I reside near Adam Sandler on the axis, but what the hey…

You are a Social Liberal (60% permissive)

and an… Economic Conservative (60% permissive)

You are best described as a:Centrist

Link: The Politics Test on Ok Cupid

I know what you’re thinking. The pretty graphs are nice, but ultimately a waste of space, so why post them? I don’t know. Eye candy? Filler? Anyway, I think it’d be cool to plot my position on the socioeconomic axes versus time. What periods in my life constitute the greatest change? Do I shift along one axis at a time, or is it more fluid? No, this won’t motivate me to take more silly tests…

Open Heart Surgery Flash Game

Happy Friday! If you’re looking to take a break from work, try this Virtual Open Heart Surgery flash game. It walks you through a simplified procedure, being very forgiving at the “intern” level. The “surgeon” and the “specialist” levels both seem harder, with shorter time limits, and fewer hints (no dotted lines to guide incisions, etc.). On those levels, the patient might die from your mistakes, making you restart the game (not possible in real life).

(found linked from )

Clip of Steve Ballmer going wild

I’m sure many of you have seen this, but I hadn’t.

dancemonkeyboy.mpg Video of Steve Ballmer going wild

[bio of Steve Ballmer on wikipedia

Have fun. 🙂